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SWAT Officers Involved in Fatal Pacifica Shooting Won't Face Criminal Charges

“It is our belief that both officers conducted themselves in a professional, reasonable and proper manner and to the last moment sought to avoid the very result demanded by the conduct of Errol Chang,” San Mateo County DA Steve Wagstaffe wrote.

Photo of the scene on March 18, 2014.  Courtesy:  www.ski-epic.com
Photo of the scene on March 18, 2014. Courtesy: www.ski-epic.com
By Bay City News Service: 

Two SWAT officers will not face criminal charges for shooting and killing a man suffering a mental breakdown who barricaded himself in his Pacifica home and stabbed one of the officers when he came inside, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said recently.

Officers Mario Busalacchi and Stephen Woelkers “undoubtedly saved the life” of Busalacchi by shooting and killing 34-year-old Errol Chang in
the home he shared with his mother at 384 San Pedro Ave. on March 18, Wagstaffe wrote in a letter to Daly City police Chief Manuel Martinez dated
Tuesday, May 27.

Chang was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and for weeks prior to the shooting had been experiencing huge mood swings and delusions, such as believing that President Obama was trying to assassinate him, according to Wagstaffe’s letter.

He had been arming himself with kitchen knives and had not slept for three days prior to his family calling police on the day of his death. His father, Thomas Chang, had been barricading himself in his bedroom for fear his son would kill him as he slept, Thomas Chang told investigators.

Thomas Chang said that the morning of March 18 his son had become so aggressive he had no choice but to call police to try and force his son
into psychiatric treatment, but he feared that his son had a death wish and was seeking “suicide by cop,” according to Wagstaffe’s letter.

Prior to police arrival Errol Chang hugged his family and said that he loved them and thanked them for all they had done for him, Wagstaffe
said.

Officers responded just before noon and found Errol Chang in the home’s backyard on a four- or five-foot retaining wall with his father and
brother. His mother, Christine Goias, told police that he was armed with a hatchet.

The officers told Errol Chang’s father and brother to leave the backyard and tried to talk to him, but he was irrational, telling police that the president was trying to kill him and threatened to chop their heads off, Wagstaffe said.

But despite the officers’ assurances that they were there to help him, Errol Chang took the axe from his pocket and raised it above his head.

The officers pointed guns at him and demanded he stop, but he swung the axe in their direction.

“The Pacifica officers showed enormous restraint in not shooting Mr. Chang at that time,” Wagstaffe wrote.

The officers called for backup and tried to Taser him, but he removed the prongs, ran into the house and barricaded himself inside.

The Daly City SWAT team arrived at the residence and police tried to talk to Errol Chang by calling the home’s phone, his cellphone, through a loudspeaker, and by throwing a phone through the window. Chang refused to talk to the officers, according to Wagstaffe.

He moved furniture around to block the entrances to the home and police feared that he might find a gun and ammunition that his father said he
had hidden inside the house. The officers started throwing flash-bang grenades through the home’s windows in an effort to get him to come outside.

At one point, he broke one of the home’s front windows and stuck his head and upper body outside, yelling things like “go ahead and shoot me
in the head”, “give me five more minutes” and “I’m dead already,” according to Wagstaffe. The officers thought about pulling him through the window but decided it was too dangerous.

Eventually the officers came up with a plan to enter through the back door while Chang was at the front window and throw a flash bang into the
living room to disorient him long enough for the officers to take him into custody.

But getting inside proved more challenging than they thought because of Chang’s makeshift barricades, including a mattress and other furniture blocking the entrance to the living room where he was hiding.

The SWAT team, including Officers Busalacchi and Woelkers, threw a flash-bang beyond the barricade and then tried to move it, but couldn’t and
Busalacchi scaled the barricade and got into the other room.

Chang came out of the smoke and darkness and ran toward Busalacchi, hitting him in the legs. Busalacchi managed to kick Chang off him, and then noticed he was holding a large knife with a brass-knuckle spiked handle.

Chang swung the knife at Busalacchi’s face, but the officer blocked the attack with his arm and was stabbed there. Woelkers pointed his rifle over the barricade and as Chang raised his arm to stab Busalacchi again, both officers fired their guns.

Chang collapsed and was pronounced dead a short time later. Busalacchi was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and required surgery for the stab wound.

Wagstaffe said that after his review of the evidence he reached “the inevitable conclusion that the homicide of Errol Chang, while tragic,
was legally justifiable homicide.”

He even commended both officers for how they conducted themselves in the confrontation, and said their actions saved Busalacchi’s life.

“It is our belief that both officers conducted themselves in a professional, reasonable and proper manner and to the last moment sought to avoid the very result demanded by the conduct of Errol Chang,” Wagstaffe wrote.

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Holly Willett Rios June 11, 2014 at 06:04 PM
Happy to see a righteous outcome.
agewaver June 12, 2014 at 11:07 AM
Instead of a SWAT team, there should have been a psychiatric crisis intervention team sent to deal with the situation. But funding for mental health services has steadily eroded over the years so there was no such team available. But funding for SWAT teams has risen. Funding has also dwindled for preventative mental health services that may have prevented Errol's psychiatric crisis in the first place. Hence, the result. The SWAT team dealt with the situation in the way they've been trained. I don't blame them. I blame the unwillingness of too many voters - and the politicians who keep getting voted into office by saying "I won't raise your taxes" - to secure funding through taxes to adequately fund mental health services. As a society who doesn't support adequate mental health services, we all have a share of the blame for what happened to Errol Chang.
MadMonkey June 12, 2014 at 01:21 PM
I agree with what you say other than with paying more taxes and blaming all of us. We pay a fair amount in taxes and the government wastes it. The more we pay, the more they either take as salary or waste. If the government was a private company it would be out of business long ago. The government needs to be more efficient and use the money more wisely. Our choices these days for elected officials is a selection of the lesser of 2 evils. We tend to choose the one we dislike least, I can't remember the last politician I really supported that ran for office.
MadMonkey June 12, 2014 at 01:14 PM
I can't blame the officers, they were doing what they were trained to do. I can blame the "negotiator" or the commanding officer who did not use proper negotiating techniques to deal with a paranoid schizophrenic, but again that is likely a training issue. If the government is not going to fund and hire a mental health specialist within the SWAT team or pay for other mental health services for the community, then they need to train their officers how to better deal with them to avoid both this incident and the one in Santa Cruz, both completely avoidable.

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